Until the pandemic came along, I thought I had a pretty good track record of sticking with reality. Of course there are books, but because every book I read I study, books don’t count as channels of escape. There’s writing, and that definitely doesn’t register as a means of not being here. Writing, as in fiction, as in stories made up by me. I’m not dodging what is, am I? I’m right here. Hello. See? I’m here. Ah, delusion.
It wasn’t until the end of 2020 that something came along to shatter my illusion of ever-presentness. At the same time, it provoked the question of what the heck is “being present” anyway? Is it what we are engaged in now or is it what we feel we should be engaged in? If I always have to be mindful of being mindful, is that being mindful? Or is meta-mindfulness yet another dwelling place constructed by my seemingly limitless personality? Ah, once more, delusion.
Let me just say that what came along at the end of 2020 has been a great teacher for me. It’s helped me decide that to be fully human we need to relax our grip. Enjoy! as the waitress says, setting down our plates of hot, delicious huevos rancheros. I can’t tell you how moved I am when anyone takes the time to tell me to enjoy. And the word “reality”? Don’t even mess with it. It has no meaning besides the one you give it, and that’s no way to run a language.
Strange, the source of our most profound lessons. Imagine a year ago, November’s early darkness in tandem with all the uncertainty spawned by Covid-19. Many of us felt like prisoners at home, where often there was no one to talk to. I put food out for the stray cat and if she dared approach I’d start a conversation with her. Somewhat desperate times, those were. Trying times, to say the least. So when evening came, along with the darkness, it was time to tune in to something and someone other than myself. Isn’t that why television was invented? Never in my life have I been a fan of television, for no other reason than when I was a kid there wasn’t much, and it was all in disappointing black and white. We were allowed to watch one-and-a-half hours of TV a week—a week—and one of those hours was always Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color (in black and white). For the balance of my allotment, I alternated between Lassie and Leave It to Beaver.
The thing I stumbled upon at the end of 2020? Two words: Madam Secretary. It is to Leave It to Beaver as Homo sapiens is to Neanderthal. It has the upright posture of a forward thinking organism, while poor Beave is out there in the yard pounding rocks. Madam Secretary has done such a service to my mental health this year, including my ruminations on mindfulness, I would have to say I’m not sure I could have gotten this far into 2021 without it. And by “it” I mean the series, but to be perfectly honest, the real hero here, the real heroine, is Elizabeth McCord. In case you weren’t aware of it, she’s the Secretary of State under President Conrad Dalton (who is effectively and somewhat surprisingly played by Keith Carradine, mostly without his guitar). Elizabeth is sharper than sharp, keenly aware of whatever diplomacy a situation calls for, and most of all, convincingly human. She’s also got great taste when it comes to husbands. Henry McCord is a lovely man, strongly supportive of the women in the family and only fleetingly skeptical of his son. They’re a great pair, but it’s Elizabeth to whom I appeal as one of the better angels of my nature. In a fix I ask myself, “What would Elizabeth do?”
For a year I’ve been asking the question, “What would Elizabeth do?” I suppose it’s my mantra now, and as mantra it needs no answer; just the repetition of it soothes me, and more often than not leads me away from whatever mess I'm in. It’s not prayer, but I feel I’m being heard, and when needed, answers do arise. The weight of going it alone is lifted. I’ve got beside me, Elizabeth McCord.
Does this interfere with a reality I’m supposed to be engaged in, the one that exists outside the frame of the TV screen? I wonder. But I don’t wonder much. When you fall into the understanding that there’s neither inside nor outside the frame, that the whole darn thing is frameless, that there is no meta-world, your wondering sort of stops and you move into something a lot simpler, something called enjoyment.
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